Heat-Timberwolves Preview

A four-game road trip against some of the worst teams in the NBA

has been more interesting than the Miami Heat probably

anticipated.

The Heat continue their pursuit of the No. 2 seed in the Eastern

Conference when they try to hand the Minnesota Timberwolves a ninth

straight loss Friday night.

Miami (52-23) figured to cruise through this trip that started

with games against Cleveland and Washington and ends in New Jersey

on Sunday. Those three opponents, along with Minnesota (17-58),

have records that are among the six worst in the league.

The road stretch, though, got off to a bad start with a 102-90

loss to the Cavaliers on Tuesday, with LeBron James skipping

pregame introductions in order to avoid hearing the boos in his

second trip back to Cleveland. The Heat recovered for a 102-90 win

over the Wizards on Wednesday in a game that featured a

second-quarter scuffle.

Miami reserves Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard were ejected

because of the incident, in which Washington rookie guard John Wall

took a swing in reaction to being elbowed.

James, who finished with 35 points, eight rebounds and eight

assists Wednesday, later complained that a foul on him by Maurice

Evans should have been called as intentional.

“I see a lot of basketball every day, and anytime when someone

gets grabbed around the neck, it’s an automatic flagrant-1. If I’m

wrong, tell me I’m wrong,” James said. “Sometimes it’s unfair,

because of how strong I am, you know. I can take the punishment of

course, but at the same time, I think it’s unfair sometimes.”

Dwyane Wade had 33 points and nine assists as the Heat finished

with their fourth-best field-goal percentage of the season at 57.7.

The teams each had 35 rebounds, one night after the Cavaliers

outrebounded the Heat 44-30.

“It’s physical. That’s fine. We’re not running away from that,”

coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When the dust settles, it becomes about

a basketball game.”

The Heat are 2 1/2 games behind East-leading Chicago and locked

in a tight battle with Boston for the second-best mark.

A big offensive performance could be in store for the Heat on

Friday, as they shot a season-high 58.2 percent in a 129-97 rout of

Minnesota on Nov. 2. Wade had 26 points and James added 20 and 12

assists.

Michael Beasley had a difficult night in his first game against

his former team, scoring 11 points in 10 minutes before missing the

second half with a bruised hip.

Minnesota is enduring its sixth losing streak of at least six

games. The Timberwolves have not dropped nine in a row since a

16-game skid Feb. 24-March 28, 2010.

This difficult homestand has featured visits by the East’s three

top teams. Minnesota rallied from 25 down to take a fourth-quarter

lead in an 85-82 loss to the Celtics on Monday, but turned in a

less-competitive effort in falling 108-91 to the Bulls on

Wednesday.

“For whatever reason, it wasn’t there tonight,” coach Kurt

Rambis said. “We didn’t bring the effort and intensity and focus

for the vast majority of the ballgame.”

All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing three games

because of a strained left groin and had 16 points and nine

assists.